Devil's Pool and Victoria Falls: Dec-9-2013

It's about 4:30pm here and I have had a full day.  Before I jump into things I have to say that I have lost two blog postings....god-damn tablet....I should have just brought my laptop.  I don't feel like repeating everything so you'll just never know the crazy shit that I wrote in those two postings.

My day started when I heard a knock knock knock.  It was the front desk-someone had been there to pick me up.  I looked at my watch at it read 9:15.  I flipped out because I thought I had to be at the place for the Devil's Pool at 10:00.  The place was in Zambia, which meant I had to exit Zimbabwe, cross the bridge over the falls and then enter back into Zambia.  Total distance was probably 5-10kms from my hotel to the meeting place....more on that later.  I had no idea who was waiting for me at the front because I was going to arrange my own transport (walking) for Devil's Pool.  It was someone picking me up for a day Safari Ride in Chobe, Botswana.  I remembered I had inquired about such a trip via email, but never ended up paying so I assumed it wasn't confirmed....oops!
According to my watch I had 35 minutes remaining to make a trip that the front desk suggested I set aside 2 hours for.  I had the front desk hail me a taxi and skipped the free breakfast due to time constraints.  I paid $5 USD for a 5 minute taxi ride and was through customs in no time.  I had to check out of Zimbabwe first, they gave me a receipt..then I have to cross a portion of the bridge and hand this receipt to a person in uniform.  From this point onward I was checked out of Zimbabwe but not stamped into Zambia...kinda like no-man's land!  I was booking it by this time...luckily a nice woman in a car (I guess it had been a taxi) had stopped over along the side of the road and asked if I had needed a ride.  I was thankful and hopped in.  We chit-chatted and I got off at the other end of the bridge (it was quite long).  I was happy that I had gotten my multiple-entry Zambian Passport because going through customs only took a few minutes...much quicker and less corrupt than the other border crossings I've been to--though I was usually crossing borders with my overnight bag and these crossing were at relatively highly-visited areas.

The Mist from Victoria Falls Rises in the Background
I took a taxi to the Royal Livingstone, where I was to meet for the Devil's Pool adventure.  The pure sight of the hotel from the inside left me breathless.  It was just like the lodges you see in those know the REALLY NICE ones.  I had to pay the taxi $4 USD but all I had was a $10 bill, which around this part is often too much to be able to change.  The front desk at the hotel told me they don't deal with USD.  The taxi driver said it was 5 (whatever their currency is) to 1 USD. I later found out that he was being honest with me because it's actually just around 5.5 to the USD.  I gave him 25 and kept 25.  I arrived at the place where I was supposed to be and a man told me I was early.  I was confused but he said that the tour left at 10:30 and not 10, but and it was currently only 8:15.  I was so confused.....had inadvertently changed my watch while setting my alarm clock the night before?  I probably woke up around 7:15 or so.  I haven't had ANY sort of jet-lag or whatever that b/s is people always talk about when they fly.

On the Ledge of Devil's Pool, Victoria Falls
The guy at the tour meet-up location place told me I could come back at 9 for the earlier tour and I could go if there were spots.  I walked around the hotel for a little and took a few pictures.  I sat down and ordered a coffee...probably the best coffee I had ever had.  I asked where they got it from and the waiter told me "South Africa".  I went back around 9 and they had room for me.  We split into several groups of 4 and a speed boat took each of our groups to Livingstone Island.
The Guides Risk their Lives for Our Entertainment...Very Dangerous!

On the Island we had a few minutes to snap some pictures of the falls and then we got into our swimming gear.  I was happy to be wearing my five fingers shoes.  My heart was pounding and I was getting pretty nervous/scared--though I cannot say I disliked the feeling.  I felt alive and started to embrace the thrill and just went with it.

I was in a group of 4.  There was a guy from Dublin, Ireland who worked in Australia for a while working in copper mines.  His company opened a new facility in Zambia so he had been working locally for a while.  Another guy was from Vancouver, BC, Canada.  He was traveling with his girlfriend but she was too scared to go with him on the Devil's Pool adventure.  The last guy was from Germany.

We Pose for a Photo Before we Risk our Lives
First thing we did was swim 40 or so meters to get closer to the Devil's Pool.  There was one guide that was already at the pool and the guide we came with had our cameras and was taking photos for us while we were in the pool.  He was literally ON THE EDGE of the falls to get the best pictures possible.  We lowered ourselves one at a time into the pool.  I felt the current try to carry me over the edge.  There was a rock wall to stop a person from falling off the end, but one has to make sure they don't overshoot and go where the wall ends.  Also, the water was a good 8-10 inches higher than the rock wall--it wasn't as if there was a hard stop...people have fallen off in the past.

NOW FOR THE SCARY PART WE ALL CAME FOR!  One after the other we had our pictures taken while laying on the rock wall and lifting our hands over our heads, thus being unsupported while leaning OVER the edge of one of the largest waterfalls in the world.  This is what the other guide, the one that was already there when we had gotten there, was for.  He was holding our legs as to provide so me support, though at no time did I feel he was holding tight enough.  The experience was amazing and was well worth the $60-80 for the 1.5 hr trip.  I would encourage anyone who has the option to go on this tour to do so...they only offer it ~4 months out of the year when the water is low enough though.

Afterwards we took a few pictures and made our way back to a tented area on the island where we were served eggs Benedict w/ bacon.  We also had bread that would put Cracker Barrel out of business.  I had tea this time as my nerves couldn't take any more 'energy'.  We took the road back to the Royal Livingstone.  I parted ways with the German but walked for a while with the two others.  We had trouble finding our way out of the hotel's front gate.  After crossing a few impalas and monkeys we finally found our way to the main road.  They were going to the park on the Zambian side and I was on my way back to Zimbabwe.

After I stamped out of the Zambia I made friends with a family of 11.  They were from Zambia, about 1.5 hours north of Vic Falls.  They had never been to Victoria Falls before and were excited.  We chatted and walked for 20 minutes or so.  I had explained the experience I just had and they were amazed.  Then I passed my camera around for all 11 of them to see the picture of me hanging over the edge.  You should have seen their faces.

Halfway along the bridge there were people bungee jumping.  For $130 USD I decided to pass.  Also, about 18 months ago an Aussie had gone and her rope broke and she had fallen into the river.  She survived, but still, I had no compulsion to go.  I met a local Zambian named "Innocent" and he tried to sell me some Zimbabwe currency.  He had a 100 trillion dollar bill and I told him I had no money.  We talked for 15 or so minutes.  I parted ways and headed towards the Zimbabwe border again.

Along the way I met a man and what seemed to be his older son.  I had asked how he was and he said he was good but he was hot.  He went on to tell me how horrible it was that these "tourist places" charge such high rates and do not even include water.  We talked about South Africa and Nelson Mandela.  He told me that "Many people outside of Africa think Nelson Mandela was a great man, but what he did to South Africa was horrible".  This man was black-as have been most people I've talked to here-and I was a little shocked to hear him be so frank about his disapproval of Nelson Mandela.  Remind me to tell you about this character I met last night...

I will not get into the details of the conversation but he seemed really upset that Nelson allowed all the property owners to retain their current property after the regime change.  This guy had a problem that 80% of the property was owned by individuals and he felt if he wanted land to farm on or to build a factory that he should be able to.  OR COURSE I had an opinion on the matter but I tried to suppress it and really understand this man's view.  I found out that so many of the land owners are 'rich' europeans that never use the land.  I kept wanting to draw parallels on how the US gained its land from ripping off the natives, but I figured this man wouldn't know enough about US history to get my point.

We talked about his business and a little bit more on the South African (and to a large extent all of Africa) issues.  He told me, while I was in line at the Zimbabwe customs, that all of Africa a shit.  I was standing in a line with 20 of people and it had been at least an hour since I have seen any white person so you can imagine how uncomfortable I felt.  But we talked about how the people of a nation should never be judged by their government/politicians.  We could both agree on that.

It was probably close to 11:30 at this time and I have been on my feet, swimming, and talking to people since probably 7:45 in the morning.  But if you have ever traveled with me you know that I NEVER rest...there is plenty of time for that on long bus rides, night time, and when the weather is bad.

I paid the $30USD entrance fee to the official Victoria Falls park and spent ~2 hours taking photos.

The falls were beautiful...though there was significantly less water volume than during the wet season.  Many of the locals claimed it was more impressive now since you could see more-as there wasn't the mist blocking the views.

Cataract Island View - Victor Falls

I chatted with a few families/people along the way.  With one family from Zimbabwe, the wife told me that they had been all over Zimbabwe and this was the last place to go.  I enjoyed that there weren't too many foreigners.  I would say at least 80% of the visitors in the area are native to Zambia/Zimbabwe.

I bought a 7-up for $2 and left the Falls to walk to my hotel...which was still another 5-7km away.  The boy I met yesterday was waiting for me and told me he had the item I asked for.  I waited for him to get it.  The craftsmanship was poor but had promised him I would buy it from him so I made an offer of $5 and he laughed.  Then I said $6 because I felt bad but I am not about the pay any games.  He said $15 and then I started to walk away.  He started to tell me how it was handmade and that it was real ebony.  I wasn't about to tell him I thought it was junk, but I did tell him I could get something of better quality in Chinatown NYC for half what he was asking.  He told me that getting something from the artist was important, but I told him I couldn't be sure that he even made it.  He told me he did, so obviously I was wrong.... ;)
A man next to him told me to just make another offer and that he would accept it.  I said I am not playing games and I walked away.  He waited until I took a few paces and said, ok $6 for you.  I told him no and that I already had offered $6 and that he was greedy and was trying to take advantage of me.  I told him he tried to play games to rip me off and that I no longer wish to do business with him.  He kept insisting that I pay $6 but I just walked away.

Later while I was back in my hotel room (about to shower) the front desk had informed me that there was a man in front requesting me.  It was the guy trying to sell me the thing for $6.  I told the man to instruct that guy that I was ill and was no longer interested.

Steak & Fries at Vic Fall Lodge
I took a short swim at my hotel, showered, and then went outside to write...which I have been doing for the last (almost) 2 hours.  I'm drinking a Zimbabwe Beer called "Golden Pilsener" and eating a steak and fries.  The food is "eh" but pretty cheap and I'm not too eager to spend a lot of money taking cabs to and from more expensive hotels for dinner.

---about last night...
I met a South African man at the bar at the hotel last night.  I talked with him for a while but realized over the course of the night we was a complete asshole and that I after a while I not wish to speak with him any more.  He was a racist self-righteous Christian moron.  He told me, "Blacks and Whites should just not mix".  He told me it "wasn't natural".  I responded by saying I didn't think it was natural for a white man like him to be in South Africa and that he should move back to Europe if he was so concerned about 'being natural'.  He didn't like that, but he continued to buy me drinks and actually bought my dinner too.  He went on to tell me that "Whites" were more "Evolved" and it just made me sick.  He told me that Indians were the product of when whites and blacks have kids.  I told him that archeologically speaking, Indians were in fact Caucasian, just like 'us Whites'.  He did NOT like that.  Then he said if "we were all equal" then why are we not all the same color.  I knew this man didn't have the IQ, education, or personality to understand but I tried anyways.  I explained that people with lighter skin would get cancer more often and have higher mortality rates and that natural selection would favor darker-skinned people.  I even explained why certain people put on more weight than others, why some people have wider-set hips, etc... He just wasn't getting it.

"He told me people can always look for answers but it's just easier to believe something and stick to it".  WOW!  At this point he had begun sounding a lot like a Baptist/Islamic extremist...I moved far away for Memphis for a reason!

I was 'saved' when a German guy came to the bar and ordered another beer.  We all talked for a bit but when the South African went to the bathroom the German told me he had to leave.  I told him I couldn't stand this guy either so we just moved down a few seats and continued talking for an hour or so.  At around 10:15 we each went off to our respective rooms.  The German, Ben, was 'volunteering' here for 16 days at the Lion Walk activity.  It's not really volunteering though as he has to pay for room, food, airfare, and the $1500 program fee  The Lion Walk is where tourists pay $130 or so to walk alongside young (1 to 1.5 year old) lions.

This guy had just turned 30 and designs the interior of grocery stores.  He uses both business and psychology in his work.  I've heard about marketing psychology before.  Last year he had spend 2 months in Kenya teaching at an orphanage.  For his recent birthday his friends wanted to throw him a huge party but he had told them if they wanted to than all the guests can not get him a gift.  If they wanted to they should donate to the orphanage in Kenya he had worked at.

We talked a bit on how important it was/is to take vacations away from it all and really experience the world as it is.  It helps re-base oneself and to allow one to see what is truly important in life.  People in Africa are magnitudes MUCH HAPPIER than those living in the US.  When everyone has nothing there is no concept of jealousy.  It really makes you think, "why can't I be happy living in a house 1/3 the size of my current house"?  We need big houses to hold all of our 'stuff'.

Even the locals trying to sell me stuff are nicer and more willing to talk with me and laugh than the people in my OWN building in Philly!  I don't think I can live in Africa, but if anyone knows of any opportunities in Asia please pass it along.  Tomorrow is Rafting...can't wait!